URBANA, III — Dog owners, increasingly called “pet parents” by the pet supply industry, are becoming steadily more aware of what they’re feeding their “fur babies.” In the wake of a recent pet food scare that caused many owners to re-think grain-free dog food, pet food manufacturers are now offering fresher, human-grade alternative foods for dogs. However, little research had actually been performed on the food. Now, a study by researchers at the University of Illinois finds that not only is this food more palatable for dogs, it is also more easily digested than other dog foods.
Kelly Swanson, study co-author and a professor of Human Nutrition at Illinois, says he wanted to know the specifics of what makes human-grade food superior for dogs than other foods.
“Of course, you assume that since human-grade ingredients are high quality, the foods should be highly digestible,” Swanson says in a media release. “But until unbiased researchers actually conduct the testing, these companies are getting questioned by consumers and veterinarians. Are the foods safe? Are they complete and balanced? Basically, are they good?”
Swanson’s team tested six dog foods made by JustFoodForDogs, a company claiming to only use USDA-certified ingredients in their products. Their food is formulated with minimally-processed, human-grade ingredients like rice, carrots, broccoli, lamb, and chicken.
The research team analyzed the chemical composition of the six food products, then measured their nutrient and amino acid digestibility and energy content. To measure digestibility without interference from differing gut microbial activity, the team gave the food to surgically-altered roosters that had no ceca, or microbial pouches. All diets supplied by JustFoodForDogs were ultimately determined to be highly digestible.
Swanson says that one of the study’s aims was to help determine feeding and portion guidelines for pet owners feeding their pups these human-grade products. Essentially, because these foods are of a much higher quality, pet parents need to adjust portions accordingly.
“Typical pet foods are generally less digestible than human foods – that’s why feeding guidelines are different from the USDA nutrition guidelines for humans. But if you apply the traditional dog food guidelines for metabolizable energy to human-grade dog foods, you risk overfeeding because these foods are so nutrient-dense,” Swanson adds.
The food tested by Swanson and his team had 85% digestibility for most indispensable amino acids, an indication of high-quality protein. This usually leads to low stool volume in dogs, a welcome development for virtually all dog owners.
While this study only focused on one specific dog food brand, Swanson is confident his findings would apply to other human-grade dog food products available today.
“Individual foods have to be tested, but our results should apply to other products if they’re truly using human-grade ingredients. There might be some small differences, but ultimately, they should still be highly digestible,” he concludes.
The study is published in the journal Translational Animal Science.